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Notre Dame community responds to sex abuse crisis

and | Wednesday, September 12, 2018

In the aftermath of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, members of the Notre Dame community gathered Tuesday in a discussion hosted by Campus Ministry to grapple with the sexual abuse crisis facing the Catholic Church.

“There’s going to be no resolution at the end of this,” Fr. Pete McCormick, director of Campus Ministry, said. “But we are, I believe, going to … leave from [this] with a wider sense of [the] questions that are at play.”

The scandal emerged after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury issued a report on Aug. 14 stating that more than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused minors over the course of more than 70 years. The report listed more than 1,000 victims and noted that thousands more were yet to be identified.

Johnny Gregory, a Holy Cross brother and graduate student, said as a member of a religious order, he struggled with guilt in the face of the allegations.

“Personally, I feel it’s my fault, [that] I am involved in it, that I have done something wrong,” he said.“ … I was questioning myself: ‘What is happening?’”

“What do you tell the young seminarians, the young religious like me?” Gregory asked McCormick.

Ultimately, McCormick responded, he chose to stay in the Catholic Church because of the “beautiful things” he said it had to offer — forgiveness of sins and the sacraments.

“There’s an element of gratitude that I still have within myself in my own vocation for being a priest and to have known this Church … and I stand up for this,” McCormick said. “I have to stand in a spot that says I’m firmly committed to this Church because of what it has been for me, but at the same time, from that position, I look at the evil and I say, ‘You don’t have a place here.’”

Senior Leah Buck said members of the Catholic Church can begin to address the crisis by acknowledging the ways in which priests are sometimes placed on a pedestal.

“I think something that’s really at the root of all the problems, both with the cover-ups and with the abuse itself is clericalism and this idea that priests are God,” she said.

Members of the laity can adjust this attitude as a way to shift power from the Church hierarchy back into the hands of the entire Church, Buck said.

“Acknowledge our priests are people,” she said.

Students also expressed concern about Notre Dame’s resident Holy Cross priests and brothers and asked what steps the University has taken to protect against clericalism within its own clergy.

McCormick said Holy Cross has been “proactive” against sexual abuse.

“All of us, when we enter the seminary, go through human formation elements,” he said.

These steps include extensive background checks and psychological evaluations, he added.

Additionally, when news of the abuse crisis reached Notre Dame, Holy Cross decided to appoint a lay board to review its evaluation process, he said.

McCormick said those who wish to report incidents of sexual abuse by clergy members may contact the Office of Institutional Equity or the Office of Title IX to file a report.

McCormick said he encourages the Notre Dame community to engage in discussion about the scandal.

“Talk about [the scandal] amongst your friends,” he said. “ … This is real and it needs to be contended with. And we need to have great minds and great hearts thinking about it.”

Gregory said he feels conversation is an important means by which the Church can strive for a greater understanding of the scandal.

“If we want to fight evil, we all have to come together to talk about it,” he said.

McCormick said he believes that despite the atrocities plaguing the Church, its integrity is not solely defined by the actions of its members.

“Holiness does not come from priests, it does not come necessarily from laity, it does not come from bishops,” he said. “The church, ultimately, gets its holiness from our pursuit of Jesus Christ.”

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie Weber graduated in 2020 from the University of Notre Dame, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and minors in journalism and computing. A native of Grand Junction, Colorado she most recently served as Managing Editor at The Observer. // Email: [email protected] // Twitter: @wordsbyweber

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

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